I’m an avid reader and have been my entire life. In elementary school, my idea of fun on Winter Break was to stack up a dozen books on my dresser, read them all and then start all over again. Total geek, I know. Every time I started a new one, I’d skim the first chapter then turn to the back and read the last few pages. I couldn’t stand the uncertainty of it all. I had to know where the story was going, and once I knew the destination, I could go back to the beginning and enjoy the ride. Same thing with Oreos, that omnipresent staple of childhood. Loved the chocolately cookies outside – the beginning and end. Couldn’t stand the sticky, sugar-fest center. I’d scrape that crud out and give it to my sister. It’s pretty much the same today on both those fronts: skip straight to the end and avoid the filling. The middle is not my thing.
Lately though, I’ve been living in the middle everywhere I turn. I’m looking at a birthday that I’d rather avoid. It’s not one of those “milestone” years with a zero at the end. Still, it feels like it’s the midpoint of my life, like I’m halfway done. I was on the way up, am on the tipping point, and in a few days, I’ll start the second half – the slow descent.
I’m in the middle at work. I love what I do and am grateful for it. Still, I am somewhere in between: in between departments, in between people, in between what I’ve done and what I will do, what I know and what I still need to learn.
At home, I’m in between my kids (and sometimes my husband) as they become little men and start to struggle for attention. We’re in the middle of construction, and the house is a wreck. We’re in transition in our family, going from our little unit of four to an extended one, and smack dab in the middle of coordinating that transition. I’m excited, overwhelmed and ready to just get on with the next chapter, the end of the this story and the beginning of the next one.
My husband even remarked the other day that I was “Switzerland,” that neutral party that people call when they need someone to listen, to help or to smooth the waters between warring factions. He said I’m one of those people who isn’t always appreciated or may be taken advantage of because folks know I’ll always “handle it.” While they go on with their lives, I’m stuck on pause. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Lately, I think being Switzerland sucks. Everywhere I turn, I’m in the middle. I’m cranky, and I’m over it.
So tonight, we’re baking Christmas cookies. The kitchen is even worse than before. I’m (semi) cool on the outside and an insecure raging maniac on the inside. I have to work tomorrow and am just trying to get this over with, so I can get on to the next thing. The clock is ticking in my head as I’m careen toward the end again. Just then, my 5 year old son started to sing along with the song streaming from my phone.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere I go.”
Jake joined in too, sort of on pitch but giving it his all. I turn around to see two sticky faces, covered in frosting, sprinkles everywhere – filled with joy and voices lifted in love. The lights on the tree were twinkling in time with the music, and my heart stopped. I almost missed it all – the Christmas season, the spirit, the moment. I was trapped in my head looking for the end, dreading the downward slide and almost missing the point of the ride.
Maybe the middle is not so bad after all. There’s still more to come. I probably give more than I get, but at the end of my days, I know that I will have made a difference. I get my share of sorrow, but I’ll also know more joy than I could ever have wished for. If I do get walked on every now and again, that’s okay. For me, it’s more important to be kind than to be right, and my kids will grow up learning the value of giving, listening, responsibility and of compassion. When I slow down, I realize that the ride is pretty darn good these days.
Maybe I’m wrong about those Oreos. After all, the middle is the sweetest part.